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Alex Koll - Part 2


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Alex Koll: An Enterprising Man - Part 2

Vern Lindquist

Johanna "Hannah" Lillquist, a farm girl from Pedersöre, Finland, was one of five children, with one sister and three brothers. Her sister, Eva, married and stayed in Finland, but all three of her brothers, John, Peter, and Gust, immigrated to America in the very early 1900's, all settling in the Seattle area where they had an uncle and aunt, Frank and Lena (Brännäs) Lillquist.

During his courtship with Hannah Lillquist, Alex Koll often sent her postcards - the real "penny postcard" that required only a one-cent stamp. This courtship took place during the 1909 Alaskan-Yukon Exposition in Seattle. The postcards showed the many buildings of the Exposition on what later became the campus of the University of Washington.

The Wedding

Alex and Hannah were married on September 24, 1910 by Pastor J. Gullans at the Sveaborg Hall in Seattle. This was the temporary home of what would become the congregation of Emmaus Lutheran Church. Witnesses for the marriage were: Hannah's brother, John Lillquist; John's future wife, Signe Wenman; Hannah's brother, Gust Lillquist; and her aunt, Lydia Brännäs.

The hall was decorated in a festive way and was crowded with guests when the young couple entered to the tune of the Bridal March. The joyous sounds were played on a piano by Mrs. Clara A. Gullans. After the ceremony there were several heartfelt speeches and congratulations read, as well as telegrams wishing them happiness from near and far, including greetings from their families in Finland.

A great dinner was waiting for the big crowd. The happiness and joy was felt by all. In one corner of the hall were many presents from the couple's many friends and family. Alex was already established as a businessman in Koll & Wicks, a grocery store in Ballard, and the bride and groom were wellknown in the Swedish-Finnish community.

The Family Home in Ballard

Alex and Hannah bought a tenyear old house in Ballard, and prepared it to be ready for them to move into after their wedding. A copy of an invoice from Frederick and Nelson's in August of 1901 for the outfitting of the first home of Hannah's uncle and aunt, Frank and Lena Lillquist, is very interesting to us today. This was only nine years prior and gives an idea of the cost for Alex and Hannah to prepare their first home. Of course, the prices seem so small to us today, but in relation to their income of 1910, preparing a new household was a very expensive project. The table at right shows examples taken from their total bill of $324.42.

Three Young Kolls

When the three Koll children, Florence, Eugene and Margaret, were young, the home was remodeled to add a basement, and to update the kitchen and the overall floor plan. Later the hallway leading from the front door to the stairs up to the second floor was redrawn and redone, providing more space in the living room and den and modifying the straight stairway so that it entered from the dining room to a landing, then continued up the stairs - much more fun for kids to play on

There was a garage and a wood shed in the back yard. It was a secret back then, but my mother, Florence, learned to ride a bicycle, something which was not acceptable for a girl to do in the early 1920s. She went into the garage, closed the doors, and practiced until she could ride. Then, going outside, she rode down the driveway to the street and back again, but only once Having proven to herself that she could, in fact, do it, she never rode a bicycle again in her life.

Alex and Hannah helped many young people come from Finland and invited them to stay with the family. While they stayed with the Koll family, they would help in the home. Florence recalls that as she helped with the dishes, the young girl from Finland would practice her English and teach Florence to speak Swedish. Alex would help them study so they could pass the qualifications for citizenship, and they would become accustomed to the way of life in America and be prepared for employment as housekeepers, au pairs, etc., in another home. How I wish I knew who some of those people were so I could learn more.

Over the years, Alex and Hannah's home was often filled with family and friends. They got together often with the families of fellow grocers in Ballard. The brothers of Hannah Wicks, the wife of Alex's partner, were also grocers, Gus Isaacson, Herman Isaacson, and John Hagen. Many holidays and special occasions were spent together - all of them striving to be successful Americans yet proud of their Swedish-Finnish heritage and the customs which were increasingly important during the holidays.

During the Depression, the woods were closed down and logging was no longer an employment option for the strong young men. Peter Lillquist, Hannah's brother, was one of the young men who was out of a job during those hard times. Alex had Pete build himself a room in the Koll basement, and Pete shared the family home for those tough years until he could return to the woods years later.

Many stories reflecting the special warmth and memories of my grandparents have been shared over the years. Frances Helgren, a family friend and classmate of Margaret's, remembers the special dinners so beautifully prepared and set with the best china to make an elegant setting that was certain to impress a young child. This china, Rosenthal's Briar Rose, is still being used for special family occasions in our home. We serve a Thanksgiving dinner with our traditional American foods on Alex and Hannah's china to our relatives visiting us from Finland, so that they can see how we celebrate a holiday feast.

Frances remembers Grandfather Koll as a very proper gentleman, wanting a properly set table for every meal, complete with cloth napkin in a silver napkin ring at his place-setting. As a young child, I remember him having his hardcooked egg served in an egg cup as part of his everyday breakfast.

Hannah was a dedicated family person. Of a gentle nature, she had a sweet disposition, slow to anger and loving to laugh. She could spend an entire day reading a book that one of the children was reading - she would read the last chapter and if she liked it, she’d read the rest Others remember Hannah preparing to go somewhere, standing before the tall mirror in the den, and using the curling iron on her baby fine hair, just after having it done, but soon to be undone, and needing to tuck in the loose ends. There was always a basket on the kitchen floor with socks to darn and fresh fruit on the kitchen table.

Christmas was a very special time to enjoy traditional foods. As the evening progressed someone would always "forget" something so one of the men would have to go home for it. While he was gone there would be a loud noise on the porch, but all that could be seen were packages. Santa had been there The Christmas tree was decorated just before the celebration so that it would be fresh and safe to support the burning candles standing upright on the branches, the clips holding them in place for everyone's delight. Ah, this was Christmas: food aplenty served on the best china and silver, all the smells of a Scandinavian feast - meatballs, lutefiske, fresh-baked breads, julekake, plus laughter and singing.

The Koll Family Loved Music

Hannah sang in the Swedish Ladies Choir. She had a very sweet voice and often sang or hummed to herself as she worked about the house or garden. Her son, Gene, a mellow tenor, was encouraged to use his beautiful voice and was asked to study professionally. He sang in local light operas and other musical productions, was a paid lead tenor in the choirs of large churches, and built a career singing for funerals, weddings, and other functions as a source of income and ministry throughout his life.

Margaret, following the example of her mother, sang in church choirs, and for most of her life she shared that dedication of her love of music with her husband in the choirs of Emmaus and St. John's Lutheran Churches. Florence, although taking many years of piano lessons, only played for her own satisfaction, and says she sang only when a choir needed chairs filled - but was asked to not sing very loud. She often said her father, Alex, told her that every church needed a choir but also needed someone to make the coffee, and that is what she did.

Alex loved to be surrounded by music. He respected and encouraged anyone who had the gift of music.. He said that every musician needed an audience, and that is what he was. The entire Koll family enjoyed the warmth of the beach fire along with all those gathered in song at the summer house on Lake Sammamish, at Bible camps, church, Luther League, Order of Runeberg conventions, and family gatherings, especially at holidays. This love of music has been passed on to the next generation, and to the next, and so it will remain so.

And now we, and all who are interested in genealogy, shall continue our efforts to ensure that our ancestors' names shall not be forgotten to future generations.

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